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The end of brainteaser job interview questions

Brainteaser interview questions offer no real insight into a job applicant and instead make the interviewer feel superior. According to recruiting experts Hays in Malaysia, competency based interviews are the tried and tested format, particularly if you don't interview candidates every day, and employers are shifting back to this style of interviewing. 

This follows the admission by Google’s senior vice president of people operations that the company’s famous brainteaser interview questions didn’t work and would no longer be part of their interview process[i].
Chris Mead, Regional Director of Hays in Malaysia and Singapore said: “Employers have used these brainteaser questions to make their company stand out, rather than test the suitability of a candidate. Interviews should be as objective as possible and these brainteaser questions introduce too much scope for subjectivity.
“Instead we suggest employers use competency or behavioural interview techniques. A behavioural interview attempts to predict future behaviour based on your past behaviour in a similar situation. Behavioural questions often being with, ‘Tell me about a time when …’ or ‘Describe an occasion when …’.
“Questions are asked to establish various core competencies relevant to the role, such as teamwork, creativity and innovation, decision making ability, business awareness or conflict resolution.  
“The interviewer is looking for examples of past behaviour that demonstrate these competencies. This type of interview is fairer, more transparent and can help organisations reduce the chance of making costly hiring mistakes,” Chris said.
To prepare for your next behavioural interview, Chris offers this advice:
  • Answer behavioural questions with one detailed and specific example that demonstrates your proven skills and ability to successfully perform the particular competency – this means you need to prepare your evidence in advance.
  • To do this, we suggest you firstly gather as much information about the role as you can to determine the competencies required for success in the job. 
  • Then review your past experiences and select examples that demonstrate these competencies. Consider past results, situations you handled well and ways you have contributed to the success of the business.
  • Armed with this evidence, you should then use the STAR technique (Situation, Task, Action and Result) to answer questions. Firstly describe a situation you were in. For example, a colleague was struggling with performance. Next tell them what you decided to do. For example, sit down with your colleague to discuss how you could help. Then describe what you actually did. For example, gave your colleague examples of how you improved your own performance. Finally, tell them what happened as a result of your actions. For example, performance improved 35 per cent.
  • It’s best to use an anecdote with a positive outcome, but if this isn't possible explain what you learnt from the situation and how you would do it differently next time.
Common behavioural interview questions include:
  • Give me an example of when attention to detail was vital and how you completed the task accurately.
  • Describe something you have done that was new for your organisation that improved the performance of your team or the value of the work done.
  • Talk me through a time when you have had to work towards a challenging, ambitious objective.
  • Tell me about a time you had too many things to do and you needed to prioritise your tasks. How did you manage your time and objectives?
  • What is your typical way of dealing with conflict? Give me an example of when you have had to use this approach with a difficult customer.
  • Tell me about a situation where you have been part of a group working toward a specific goal. What was your role in the group?
  • Describe how you led a team through a difficult project. How did you improve their work?
  • On time pressured assignments, how have you made sure that the job is done within budget?
Hays, the world’s leading recruiting experts in qualified, professional and skilled people.
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[1]New York Times, 19 June 2013, ‘In Head-Hunting, Big Data May Not Be Such a Big Deal’
For further information please contact Lucy Sharp, Regional Marketing Manager of Hays, on +61 2 8226 9885 or

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